The Vancouver Police Department overspent a dedicated budget for serious crime investigations for the fourth consecutive year but still managed to balance its overall $204 million operating budget in 2011.
The criminal investigation fund, which is used largely to pay for overtime costs in homicide investigations and other serious crimes, was set at $3 million in 2011 but reached $4.1 million by year's end.
Statistics supplied to the Courier from the VPD regarding criminal investigation fund budgets for previous years show overspending of $91,000 in 2008, $1 million in 2009 and $231,00 in 2010.
In a statement to the Courier, the VPD attributed the four years of overruns "primarily to major events in the community beyond management's direct control."
Those events include the murder of a woman on the grounds of city hall, the kidnapping of Graham McMynn, a shooting at a restaurant on Oak Street near the mayor's house, the murder of Simon Fraser University professor Melanie O'Neill and the arrest of a suspect in the homicide of 18-year-old Poonam Randhawa.
Randhawa was shot dead Jan. 26, 1999 in an alley near Granville and West 47th Avenue.
It took investigators 12 years to find suspect Ninderjit Singh, who was arrested last year in California. The past two years alone of the investigation cost $550,000.
A Courier cover story last November on the cost of homicide investigations revealed the first 11 homicides of 2011 cost the VPD an average of $75,000 each in overtime.
At the time of the story, the overtime costs in the homicide of Harpreet "Happy" Sandhu reached $102,000. Sandhu was killed July 25, 2011 after a gunman fired several shots into the 21-year-old's back and left him lying in the 6900-block of Whithorn in Champlain Heights.
Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie, head of the city's finance committee, said he trusts Police Chief Jim Chu to decide how the police budget is best spent. Louie said there has been no discussion about council funding an increase to the criminal investigation fund or setting up an annual contingency fund for the VPD, similar to the city's snow fund for snow removal.
"They haven't communicated that to me, directly," said Louie, noting the VPD has balanced its overall budget for seven consecutive years. "There appears to be sufficient flexibility within their current model for them to balance their budget."
The VPD's criminal investigation fund was not the only dedicated budget with cost overruns in 2011, according to year-end financial statements that went before the Vancouver Police Board at its public meeting April 18.
The department, which has 1,327 officers, spent $661,000 more than its $5.3 million budget on uniforms and equipment such as firearms and ammunition, which have gone up in price. The VPD also went $329,000 over its $682,500 budget for legal costs, most of which is associated to the ongoing Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. The department had surpluses in its legal budget of $156,000 in 2010 and $322,487 in 2009.
Despite the cost overruns, the department was left with a $163,795 surplus in 2011. The biggest savings was $1.3 million in salaries because of retirements.
As the Courier reported last week, the cost of investigating the Stanley Cup riot is expected to reach $2 million by June. So far, the provincial government has picked up $1 million of that tab.